On our national day of gratitude celebrating an abundance of good food inducing a carbohydrate coma, the Los Angeles Times published the accounting of a testy court hearing in South Africa featuring Dr. Tim Noakes, a prominent physician who touts a low carbohydrate, high fat diet (LCHF). His outspoken ways landed him in hot water with the Association for Dietetics in South Africa after he offered online dietary advice to a nursing mother. His folly: recommending that the mother wean her baby with high fat and protein rich foods instead of carbohydrate based infant cereals.
Well, that’s not all. While the Dietetics Association stepped in after Dr. Noakes “behaved unprofessionally” by offering dietary advice in a tweet, it probably didn’t help that he insulted the British dietitian who’s opinion differs from him by calling her obese. He went on to tweet that he would “believe her when she loses wt.”
DIETARY ADVICE RUN AMOK
While the hearing continues, I am struck by the tone of the major players. Both the dietitians and doctor are steadfast–to the point of self righteous– in their thinking. I’ve heard this tone before.
Professionals expose a fixed mind set when their rigid beliefs trump everything else. The fixed mind set typically fails to adapt to new information as it unfolds. But sometimes, experts adopt new information so absolutely that they abandon scientific principles and embrace extremist positions when a change in diet leads to a profound personal change.
THE PROMISES AND PROBLEMS OF PERSONAL TESTIMONY
Ironically, scientifically trained professionals can be just as vulnerable to evangelical thinking as the everyday layman. Maybe this is merely a human response to a fantastic experience, as I suspect with Dr. Noakes.
When people enjoy longed for results they tend to crow about their experience, often before they explore and appreciate a fuller range of the experience. Predictably an expectation hangs in the air, “Don’t you want this great experience for yourself?”
Dr. Noakes favors a very low carbohydrate diet because it reversed his diabetes and risk of cardiovascular disease, a profound experience–especially for an active and health conscious physician. I know the giddy, almost incredulous feeling. You want to tell the world. You want to save the world. I’ve been down the rabbit hole myself.
Once I figured out that I didn’t thrive with a high carbohydrate diet, I began to recall patients who didn’t get results with a high carbohydrate, low fat diet either. Of course I started to question if they would also have benefited from a different approach to food. But it takes great discipline to avoid assuming that everyone will benefit from the same dietary advice.
A FIXED MIND SET AT BOTH EXTREMES
In the mid 1990’s I started to dig through the research and found that dietary recommendations have vacillated between high protein vs high carbohydrate about every 20 years for over a 100 years. I couldn’t help but wonder why, but knew the answer before I finished my thought.
People who don’t benefit from a high carbohydrate diet often feel better eating more protein and fat. In the late 1990’s as The Zone Diet came into popularity and Atkin’s and other higher protein diets resurfaced, the shift in thinking benefited a significant number of people. They just aren’t the same people who thrive eating more carbohydrate. As the pendulum swings back and forth, someone is always benefiting because there is simply not a single right way to eat.
Unfortunately the evangelicals often package dietary advice in an extreme format, celebrating a diet culture that aims for the most immediate or dramatic results. However, extreme behavior change rarely sticks over time.
Expert dietary advice mostly tells eaters what to do instead of empowering them to figure out what works, and consequently most people struggle to figure out a good enough balance that works for them. If you are looking to metabolically regroup now or after the holidays, consider the following:
1. You can stabilize your metabolism without a rigid diet or cleanse
If you over indulged with more carbohydrate than you can handle over the holidays, eating more protein and produce for a few days will help to reduce water weight gain and carbohydrate cravings.
2. Consider limiting starchy and sugary carbs at most mealtimes. Clean eating may be 0-1 serving, while 1-2 servings may be good enough for “maintenance”. For many, 3-4 servings is a recipe for a metabolic mess. A serving may include:
- 1 oz, bread, crackers, or other snacks before the meal
- 1/2 c starch such as potato, rice or noodles at the meal
- 6-8 oz. sweetened beverage
- A small scoop of ice cream, 1 oz. cookie, or other dessert
2. Craving sugar all day long? Try cutting out sugar for three days
Sometimes going cold turkey is the solution. If you are “in the sugar” and want to quiet the beast, set aside three days to eat delicious protein and vegetables, maybe with a few starchier foods to feel satisfied (corn, peas, winter squash, and beans/legumes work well). The process can feel excruciating, but by the end of the second day many start to feel relief. By the end of the three days, many state they can look at a sweet without craving it.
3. You may benefit from a more gradual approach Sometimes slow and steady works better than going cold turkey. Eating discreet amounts of sweet less frequently can be helpful, especially when buffered by a strong protein rich meal. Artificially sweetened substitutes may actually backfire as carb cravers attempt to wean of the sweet stuff. Be forewarned.
4. If you can’t stop sliding, you may benefit from professional support.
Knowing what to do is not the same as doing it. Sometimes a bit of insight and support through the process makes the difference between your efforts working, or not. True liberation will take skill as well as readiness and willingness to change. Professional nutritional support can be a valuable resource.
BUFFERING RIGID EXPERT ADVICE
The LCHF dietary approach favored by Noakes and other enthusiasts takes on an almost cultish flair and I understand why dietitians balk in response. Any rigid notion of what one should eat throws up a red flag, but adherents to standard dietary guidelines reveal their own fixed mind set.
Beware when the argument pivots on who is right. Individual variation is great, and the era of personalized nutrition can’t evolve fast enough. At the end of Dr. Noakes hearing maybe the judge will tell both sides to lighten up. There is more than one right way to eat.
NOTE: Ironically I spoke about “First Foods” with pediatricians at a state meeting a few years back, and one fact was clear. All over the world, women feed their infants a wide range of whole foods, some weaned their babies with more protein and fat and others more carbohydrate, but none of the indigenous women fed their babies highly refined baby cereal made from flour like we do here. Mostly I wonder why Dr. Noakes’ tweet cause so much outrage in the first place.